In the News

Joel Hoffman - Acknowledging concerns about access to its new Sorrento Valley clinic, the Veterans Administration Healthcare System for San Diego is now offering a shuttle service to and from the Coaster stop for veterans who rely on the train to get to their appointments.

The change came on the heels of a U-T Watchdog story that found the clinic had opened in August without offering connecting service from the train station to the facility, which is a half-mile away. The clinic is located above a steep driveway, and is difficult for wounded veterans to get to without a vehicle.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and San Diego Rep. Scott Peters wrote a letter to the VA calling for an immediate solution after the Watchdog’s story ran.

In a Sept. 30 letter to Sorrento Valley clinic patients, San Diego VA Medical Director Robert M. Smith said a wheelchair-accessible, 10-passenger bus will be available to veterans who request transportation at least 24 hours before a medical appointment.

“We believe this new service will be beneficial to all of our veterans expecting the highest quality of service and care to the VA San Diego Healthcare system,” Smith wrote.

The shuttle service will not pick veterans up at their homes, but John Pratt, a Marine Corps veteran whose knee injury makes it difficult for him to climb hills, applauded the VA’s decision.

Because the shuttle will drop veterans off right outside the clinic, Pratt and other veterans who take the train will not have to worry about the lack of stairs and a railing along the sidewalk that leads up to the building.

“I think it was incredible how fast it happened,” said Pratt, who brought the issue to the Watchdog’s attention a month ago. “That’s the only major complaint I’ve ever had with the VA—and it’s not medical, it’s logistical.”

Pratt has been seeing his VA primary care doctor for seven years, and he said it was relieving to be able to stay under his care.

“Dr. [Nilesh] Shah is the best I’ve ever had,” Pratt said.

In a statement to the Watchdog, Peters said he was pleased by the VA’s response.

“Making it easy for our veterans to access the care they deserve must be a priority for any VA facility,” Peters said. “My staff and I will stay on top of this."